Pixar revolutionized the motion picture industry years ago with entries such as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and other cherished movies. What you didn’t hear people say after seeing one of the movies was, “Wow – what great special effects.” Instead what you heard was, “Wow – what a great story!” The people at Pixar became excellent storytellers. In fact, one of their mantras became, “Story is King.” The men and women of Pixar would not let technology or merchandising possibilities get in the way of the story they were trying to tell through their movies. People walked away from theaters talking about what they felt, not what they saw.
The Problem at Pixar
As production got underway for Toy Story 2, the people working on the movie literally worked night and day to hit production deadlines. Originally slated to be a straight-to-video release, it soon turned into a full-fledged theatrical release, causing issues in the production timeline. There was a strong desire to make Toy Story 2 as good as the original, not settling for an “OK” sequel. People worked themselves silly.
One employee, an overtired artist, drove to work with his infant child strapped in the backseat, intending to deliver the child to the daycare center. A few hours into his workday, the man realized the child was still in his car – he’d forgotten, in his tired state, to drop off the child. The June sun had created an oven inside the car, but after pouring cold water on the child and removing him from the sweltering heat, the child fully recovered. A near fatal catastrophe was averted. But Pixar executives learned a valuable lesson. Asking this much of employees, even if they wanted to give it, was not acceptable.
Pixar’s Lesson Learned
Pixar’s executives determined never again to allow employees to be put under such pressure. “The needs of a movie could never again outweigh the needs of our people” (Creativity Inc., 76). Changes were made, and management’s job became to take a long-term view and “protect our people from their willingness to pursue excellence at all costs. Not to do so would be irresponsible” (Creativity Inc., p.77).
Striking a Balance
Pixar began emphasizing balance – balance in its employees’ lives. The studio encouraged people to have fulfilling lives outside of the work environment, and to motivate them to strike a balance between work and family. Commenting about another company who intentionally created a high-stress environment with lots of turnover, Pixar’s leadership commented, “that kind of thinking is not just misguided, it is immoral” (Creativity Inc., 78). Pixar learned that in the midst of pressures to deliver and perform at high levels, people’s needs could get pushed aside in the face of immediate pressures to “deliver the goods.”
Lessons for Bible study leaders (and church leaders!)
The majority of Bible study leaders in churches today want to do their work with excellence. They take seriously the admonition to “work as unto to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Many would say, “If the job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right!”
These same Bible study leaders are often requested to serve in other roles, too. How many teacher-leaders also serve on committees in your church? Sing in the choir? Serve as a deacon? Volunteer their time in a local homeless shelter? The list could go on and on. If you’re like me, you probably have a hard time saying “no” when a request to serve is made of you. And that’s when we can drift into the same situation that took place at Pixar.
Bible study leaders are some of the busiest people in our churches. They lead full lives, study and teach the Bible weekly, and are asked to do a variety of other jobs in the church. Perhaps church leaders should embrace the lesson that Pixar learned and say, “We must protect our people from pursuing excellence at all costs.” Over-committed group leaders will ultimately burn themselves out. Here are a few things we can do to help volunteers live more balanced lives:
- Ask a volunteer to do only one job. I’ve known people who have had 4 or 5 major roles in the church. Quite honestly, that’s too many. If a person is committed to serving as a Bible study leader, don’t ask that person to take on another ministry. Doing so robs someone else of the privilege to serve, and it adds undue stress to the volunteer leader. One person, one job.
- Provide for a sabbatical. Teachers are the best. They usually feel a calling to the role, and for that reason, they will teach “until Jesus comes back.” Perhaps a better plan would be to allow the teacher to teach, but after a period of time give them a break and allow them to sit in a Bible study group and be fed spiritually. Churches that require teachers to take a one-year sabbatical after 3 or more years of service do a good thing to help volunteers balance life and ministry.
- Encourage Bible study groups to adopt a teacher – If every adult Bible study group in your church adopted a teacher from your church’s preschool, kids, or student ministries, they could make a huge difference in the lives of those teachers. Adult class members could regularly sub in for those teachers, allowing them the chance to reconnect with an adult group for the day.
Pixar learned to help people pace themselves and experience life to the fullest. While Pixar remains a driven company, it no longer drives its employees away because of overwork. Balance is key at Pixar. Perhaps the church could learn from Pixar’s mistake and help its group leaders find the balance, too.